Ultrabooks need to be cheaper. Or better.
I welcome that Windows notebook vendors are focusing more on nice, mobile friendly designs, but it seems as if the first generation Ultrabooks are facing the same problem as premium Android tablet vendors. It’s hard to compete with substandard products at the same price as the market leader.
Anandtech reviews the ASUS Zenbook (UX21). From what it looks like, it’s a well built Windows ultrabook with solid performance and battery life, and it costs just below or the same as the corresponding Macbook Air model. However:
I prefer innovation but the display is one area where ASUS should have just blatantly copied Apple. The 11-inch MacBook Air delivers a much better overall experience. It’s calibrated from the factory, has appreciably better black levels and despite a reduction in brightness compared to the UX21 it delivers a much better overall contrast ratio.
No backlit keyboard:
I asked ASUS why it opted not to include one, worrying that the decision was somehow price-related. It turns out it was simply a time to market issue. Designing anything this slim is difficult and ASUS needed extra time to build a keyboard lighting system that would work in the Zenbook’s chassis. In the interest of getting product out the door in early Q4, ASUS abandoned the idea of doing a backlit keyboard this generation.
It’s not impossible to use but it can be frustrating even if you think you’ve got the hang of it. The occasional high latency response and the lack of support for cursor movement with another finger resting on the pad are both unacceptable. ASUS is promising to address this quickly but I tend to recommend a wait-and-see approach whenever any magical driver fixes are on the table.
ASUS tells me it is studying the behavior of Apple’s (and other competing) trackpads and is working on significant updates to the driver over the coming weeks.
That last part about the trackpad is a little mind bending to me. I realise that this isn’t exactly the case, but anyway: You’re starting to look at this NOW? I’ve been at this before. PC-notebook vendors: Please, put someone really picky in charge of the trackpad of every single model you ship, that’s how your customers are supposed to USE your product. It doesn’t matter how many trillion megaflipconvexsuperchargers your notebooks can crunch per millisecond if it’s a pain to do it.
Another quote from Anandtech, that may have been true a few years ago, but with which I now dissagree with:
If you want me to make the inevitable MacBook Air comparison I can, but as I mentioned earlier I don’t believe there’s much cross-shopping that happens between Macs and PCs at the same price point.
Why shouldn’t most consumers opt for the best product at a certain price point? If you have certain reasons for one or the other, sure, but most people don’t. “How do i fire up the browser on this thing, and can it handle my photos/videos”. That’s about it, performance wise. Then there’s the rest; shape, battery, ease of use etc. And today, Apple IS the mainstream choice (in this price range). Apple products and computers aren’t something “strange” anymore. Many consumers for these kind of PCs already have an iPhone in their pocket. If you’re gonna plunk down this kind of money for a notebook, why not choose the one that is already baked and not the one which is rushed to market and therefore has no backlit keyboard and a substandard trackpad? I would definitely consider the ASUS*. If it was priced considerably below the Macbook Air, but as of now, this is not the case.
*Outside of work, I don’t buy notebooks in this price range at all, I’m more of a “cheap, best bang for the buck windows core i3 notebook for $299” kind of guy.